There’s no hotter car on sale in Australia right now than the Ford Mustang V8 GT Fastback coupe.
By this, we don’t mean the Ford muscle car is the best car on sale. We refer instead to the staggering popularity that has seen the order list for this Michigan-made muscle machine stretch into the back end of 2017. Clearly, the Pony car resonates with a certain sort of buyer.
We would suggest that it is this version, the 2016 Ford Mustang GT coupe V8 with a manual gearbox, that stirs the soul most of all. Well, our petrolhead souls anyway.
Of course, the new Mustang is not merely trading on a legendary image and the company’s past reticence to make it right-hand drive. It also stacks up on paper as a genuine performance bargain irrespective of badge.
The car you see here kicks off at $57,490 plus on-road costs. For that, you get a rear-wheel drive V8 performance coupe. Name another new car on the market doing that at present. You can’t, because there isn’t one. It's such a shame General Motors won't give us Camaro, yet.
Couple that to the right badge and the most road presence of any car south of six-figures (based purely on the amount of people who stop and point) and half the battle is won already. That order list starts making sense.
It really does look a million dollars, especially in gun-metal grey with black 19-inch wheels. The rear lights (without sequential indicators, unfortunately) surrounded by embossed black, are particularly menacing. As is the GT branding, since there’s not a single Ford badge on the car’s body. The Pony projector lights that splash onto the pavement at night from projectors under the rear-view mirror are pure drama.
But it’s not necessarily enough to sell a car on badge credibility, looks and novelty factor forever. Eventually, style must take a back seat to substance. And when these cars are comparatively common (there will be about 6000 on Australian roads by the end of 2017) what’s under the skin matters more.
The new global Ford Mustang already has a few legs up on its US-centric predecessors. It’s much stiffer in the body, and finally moves into the 21st century with independent rear suspension — an integral link setup that ensures better contact with the road. It’s supposed to actually handle.
As you doubtlessly know, this modern Mustang is also available with a 233kW/432Nm 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine option to appeal to broader circles of buyers in downsized markets such as mainland Europe.
But this is not what Australians are buying in great numbers, and to many a Mustang just has to be V8. Especially a place with a car culture like Australia, where for a certain subset of locally made car fans there’s really no replacement for displacement.
Under the bonnet of this beast, then, is an aluminium 5.0-litre V8 engine, upgraded over the old car with a range of updates to make it breathe better. These include larger intake and exhaust valves and camshafts. There are also stiffer valve springs, a new cylinder head casting and a rebalanced crankshaft.
The result is 306kW of power at 6500rpm and 530Nm of torque at 4250rpm, which is good for a naturally aspirated V8 with a 4951cc displacement. That graph tells you that this a free-revving and easy-breathing V8 engine.
Torque is sent to the rear wheels via a heavy, pleasantly notched six-speed manual gearbox sourced from Getrag, with a weighty clutch. All Mustangs come with a limited-slip differential.
It’s a strong engine indeed, with plenty of mid-range muscle that you’ll enjoy exploring via that heavy shifter. The rolling response is just fantastic. You’ll also nail a 0-100km/h sprint in around 4.8 seconds.
The issue is noise. Where is it? The exhaust note offers few theatrics from outside, though some welcome induction and overrun acoustics are piped into the cabin via a small tunnel. Rev-matching on your downshifts is a particular joy. But in the age of GM’s BiModal exhaust, and in an epoch where the anachronistic V8 engine is bought almost purely for the drama, the Mustang GT is begging for a bit more.
If you’re reading this as an interested buyer, you clearly aren’t overly motivated by fuel economy. Which is just as well, because the factory claim is 13.1 litres per 100km, and we sure didn’t match it. We didn’t try very hard…
As we mentioned earlier, Ford says this new Mustang can actually handle twisty roads. It’s no corner-carver like some of Ford Europe’s smaller offerings, and it also isn’t as freakishly talented as home grown heroes such as the Falcon XR8 and Holden Commodore SS, which were designed specifically for this market. But we’ve been hopelessly spoiled.
Fact is, point the Mustang Fastback at your favourite sequence, and it will exhibit decent chassis balance and body control, with a pleasant willingness to step out into power oversteer without too much prodding or intrusion from an overtly touchy dynamic stability control system.
Of course, the Mustang V8’s extra 73kg of kerb weight over the $11,500 cheaper EcoBoost four-cylinder, mostly over the nose, means it doesn’t change direction or display quite as much alacrity as its leaner sibling. And it never feels shy of its 1739kg kerb weight, which in true American fashion is a little portly.
The electrically-assisted steering doesn’t offer much feedback to the driver, and while that long bonnet is quite a sight to see, the Mustang isn’t the easiest car to place.
You can use the drive mode select system to adjust the steering resistance, but the middle setting (as usual) is best. This system also re-calibrates the throttle mapping to be more or less aggressive, meaning you can tap into the torque sweet spot more immediately upon pedal application.
Reining in the heavy Pony car are very decent brakes — 380mm ventilated front Brembos with six pistons, and single-piston vented rears measuring 330mm. They’re not the last word in pedal feel, but they do an effectual job and don’t tire too easily on road.
Where the Mustang really impressed us was in the area of ride quality. The Mustang’s suspension tune is never so soft that the car wallows, but it’s also never jittery or brittle, and absorbs rutted roads (like many long American highways) really well.
It’s a comfortable cruiser, aided by the very good NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) suppression. It’s a serene place to wile away a few hours, and that’s clearly a key performance indicator for a Mustang.
The new Ford Mustang’s cabin certainly looks the part. It has a welcome splash of retro appeal, with that lovely steering wheel, the shape of the instrument binnacle and the classical switchgear.
The Mustang is also very well-equipped, with standard keyless start, seven airbags, dual-zone climate control, satellite-navigation, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Ford’s Sync 2 infotainment software, auto headlights, ambient lighting, heated and cooled electrically-adjusted leather front seats, a reverse-view camera and a relatively strong nine-speaker sound system.
The cabin is also a relatively spacious four-seater, with room in the back for two smaller adults. We made a few trips with people in the back. However, the entry process is tedious, because you have to move the seat bases forward electrically at a glacial pace — step two of a two-step process.
The relative space shouldn’t be a huge surprise, given the car’s 4784mm length is less than 100mm (10cm) shorter than Ford’s own Mondeo family car. Cargo space is 383 litres with the seats up, enough for a few larger bags.
What’s less impressive, once you’ve moved beyond the design and layout, is the quality.
The switchgear lacks tactility, the cabin plastics are much cheaper and harder than they should be — feel around the cup holders, which incidentally are un-ergonomically close to the gear shifter — the handbrake is extremely flimsy, and the carpeting in our test car’s passenger footwell was unfinished. There was just a gap showing through to the underlay.
There was also notable evidence of heat soak from the driveshaft into the centre control, meaning you might want to keep your chocolates out of there.
All told, the cabin ambience belongs to a car half the price, but then again, in North America the Mustang is indeed a fairly cheap and cheerful offering. Still, a $60k car should feel more upmarket inside than this.
All Fords come with a three-year/100,000km warranty and capped price servicing. The average cost of a Mustang service over the first six services (at 12 month/15,000km intervals) at current rates is a very reasonable $2670, cheaper than the XR8. Ford Australia also provides free loan cars.
Should you buy a Ford Mustang GT Fastback? Frankly, our thoughts are unlikely to change the opinions of purists, and given the current stock situation, are even less likely to perturb Ford should they be negative.
But they aren’t, really. The interior quality is sub-par, the engine sounds too subdued and the steering isn’t the last word in feel-and-feedback, but there’s no real V8 coupe rival that can match the Mustang for the money.
You might recall we gave the six-speed auto Mustang GT 8.5/10 recently. Yours truly is inclined to mark it down slightly, now that the lustre has slightly worn off. Thus, 8/10 for the manual (which is clearly the purist's choice) seems about right.
Let's acknowledge that, in the all-important areas of design, price and comfort, Ford has done the right job. Throw in some acceptable cornering dynamics, and the big V8 Mustang muscle car ticks the right boxes.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.